Webinar “Political Intolerance at the University: Still Counting”
This article is a full transcript of the webinar “Political Intolerance at the University: Still Counting” held on 7 July 2020.
Let’s start this meeting with two of the bravest university students I have ever met in Spain. Our discussion is entitled “Political Intolerance at the University: Still Counting”. Why did we choose that title?
Because both at the Basque Public University and the Catalan University there is a long history of intolerance against the core of the democratic rule of law, which is ideological pluralism. For many years now, in these universities you cannot go against the dominant school of thought — nationalism. We need to talk about those young intolerant sycophants who are writing on universities walls, and who become the absolute masters of a public space where very few people dare to raise their voices and say they have differing personal or political opinions. It is the most unknown phenomenon of “democratic resistance to an exclusionary, populist and intolerant way of understanding identity”.
Some university teachers have resisted that dominant political thinking that was also intolerant and totalitarian because it did not allow for the existence any other school of thought. At the University of the Basque Country (UPV), an attempt was made to assassinate teachers who were social leaders. Interestingly, in that very space where democratic freedom has been so difficult to achieve, some of these teachers became intellectual references and showed that in Basque and Catalan societies we lived constrained by fear. They were leaders. They felt very lonely. Five years ago, we published this study: “The teachers of the UPV-EHU against ETA”. It is now necessary to thank them. We must think about what happened and what wasn’t done right in terms of the structure and leadership of the University so that today we have two young people who are heroes simply for daring to express their opinion. This should never be the meaning of a hero, taking risks, even physical, or suffering savage attacks.
For this reason, we say it’s “still counting”. There are outstanding issues that were not dealt with sufficiently and the bigoted sycophants continue to roam freely in Basque and Catalan public universities. There are even other instances of political intolerance in the University.
I will now give the floor to the main speakers, who happen to be the most unknown. The teachers who resisted felt lonely, but the students felt even more alone and isolated. They were the most vulnerable in the chain of exercising their freedom.
I would like to thank Julia Moreno, president of S’ha Acabat, for joining us. She leads a group of free students who defend freedom. They have managed to show the hidden side of complicity, submission, and those young sycophants of intolerance and exclusionary nationalist identity. They have managed to resist at the Catalan University.
Julia Moreno, (President of S’ha Acabat)
I would like to begin by asking if anyone would imagine that a Catalan university could infringe upon the fundamental right of opinion, the right to ideological freedom, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to education of a pro-independence group. I guess we all agree that it
would be a negative answer. We find that at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, for example, there are up to seven groups associated to a pro-independence ideology.
We lodged an appeal for being expelled from the group directory. The Prosecutor of the Court of Barcelona concluded in his review that it was impossible not see the connection between the expulsion from the directory and the group’s stance against pro-independence arguments and the appeasing attitude of the University’s governing board towards these ideas. It is deplorable that it had to be a prosecutor, and later a judge, the one to say that up to four fundamental rights of a group of students were violated simply because they were constitutionalist and criticised the University for something deemed abnormal.
S’ha Acabat set up information stands at the Autonomous University of Barcelona on five occasions. The first time we were threatened with these words. I’ll reproduce them even if they sound harsh: “We’ll shoot you in the head, you bastards.” An enraged person came up to the stand just to say that.
The second time we set up the stand during an international fair where we welcomed Erasmus and exchange students. On that occasion we couldn’t do our jobs properly either because we got a sign posted saying we were threatening the student movement. That was totally untrue. We simply denounced something that shouldn’t become the norm. Any citizen in a democratic society should do the same.
The third time we announced that we were going to talk about nationalisms and populisms in Europe. Our stand ended up surrounded. We were attacked, stink bombs and beer cans were thrown at us. We ended up with a quarter — and that’s saying a lot — of the material we had. On the last event we were threatened with wooden sticks and a security guard ended up on the floor.
However, it’s not always been like this. There was one occasion where there were many other groups. They dared not tarnish their image, because there were too many groups and that could have ended with someone wounded that did not belong to us. Anyone can go about their normal activity, but if they’re from S’ha Acabat they don’t seem to have that right.
This was our greatest success, since we ended up without any information material left. People took it off our hands. Lots of people joined S’ha Acabat. So, one event out of five is the only time that we have managed to finish properly and in the circumstances I’m describing.
Unfortunately, we must denounce that this happens with the complicity of the government teams. Those teams that join the National Pact for the referendum, or that during the riots after the sentence call for an end to the police action because they deem it too aggressive. However, they then let the police enter the campus -when we were being attacked- so that they can defend us, and we don’t have to experience situations of coercion or we are prevented to exercise our right to demonstrate. This creates a highly tense atmosphere at the university. These are the standards that the university’s governance teams are setting to assess what is right and what isn’t.
I also want to take this opportunity to tell all the people patting us on the back after the events that you must fight and be heard and join us where you can. They must also speak up and say that they don’t agree with the situation. They need to point the finger at the guilty ones and speak out against injustices.
Let’s say hello to David Chamorro, History student at the University of the Basque Country. You’ve experienced what Julia is describing and much more. We’ve seen before some of the graffiti that have become “normal” to students of the University of the Basque Country. I too have been a student of that university. The graffitti of the most radical and extreme pro-independence movement is the norm and no one dares challenging that space. When someone raises their voice, they are persecuted and coerced. I don’t think we realise that when a group’s ideological freedom is attacked, democracy as a whole is being attacked. When university teachers or leaders decide not to take the side of the harassed party but with the bullies — because it’s less trouble — they are complicit.
Testimony of David Chamorro (UPV student)
I don’t think students in any other autonomous community lower their heads and are careful about what they say at all times because they have to keep telling themselves: “Be careful not to be singled out because if they do they won’t leave you alone anymore”.
For those who don’t know about this violence, I attend a university where this is normal: there are no groups or unions casually expressing their ideas with total freedom. Only one side gets to share their ideas, shouting and painting the walls. They just organise rallies and set up information stands. If you raise your voice and say that you’re not left-wing and, especially, you’re not a nationalist, they’re outright after you. It depends on to what degree you dare to mobilise; they go after you to a greater or lesser extent. This was the case of the group against nationalism we were trying to set up at the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria.
We devoted to reporting graffiti and threats of all kinds. We held a meeting as we believed we could create a group because we were beginning to attract a few people. It was only a few, because very few people dare to mobilise. People are so scared. By the time we left the meeting, they were already stalking and watching us. They went after us, and me in particular. They pushed me to the ground, and I lost consciousness and sustained a broken nose. I always say the same thing: if it wasn’t because I was lucky enough to be accompanied, who knows what they would have done or what would have happened.
That’s only an example. It’s the final stages of this radicalisation process of the University of the Basque Country when it was allowed to threaten a teacher, burn their car, chase them, throw bottles at them. Nowadays that doesn’t happen because no one dares say anything.
When that happened to me, a rally was organised to give me some kind of support in the face of what had happened and there were almost no students. Some good friends of mine would say to me “I’m so sorry, I can’t go because they’re going to know I’m supporting you. They will know that I think like you. I can’t be there because they’re going to target me and they’re going to make my life hell.” That’s what friends and teachers told me. Imagine how the University of the Basque Country is right now, full of tremendous hatred.
The graffiti saying that “the university must be burned down,” and “the bourgeoisie has to be burned down” could be done by senseless young people writing nonsense.
But targeting or painting “Gora ETA” and hanging banners defending ETA prisoners is something else. We have to put up with walking from one campus building to another — a mere 100 metres — through a hallway filled with banners or pictures of ETA members because one of them has died in prison, and they make her look like she’s a heroine, a goddess of freedom, and we all have to deplore that she has passed away. It wasn’t any police officer’s fault. They always do the same thing; they try to sell the idea that it’s the fault of the Civil Guards, the constitutionalist political parties, the National Police, the Ertzaintza. It’s everyone’s fault but theirs. In their view, ETA prisoners have never done anything wrong. It’s very hard to win at the University of the Basque Country.
They’re trying to spread their hateful message by any means. They make up any kind of excuse to attack someone. They believe that if a person doesn’t think like them, he or she’s an enemy to be defeated. That’s pretty much the line of all their arguments: “You have to beat everyone who doesn’t think like us.”
They think they’re absolutely right and never wrong, and that they’re in a fight in which they don’t know how far they can go. They justify murders, assaults, and all the undemocratic methods that should be condemned.
There are people who, not upholding their ideology, don’t dare to condemn it because they think they will be targeted. There are people who are not from the left abertzale or the average Herri Batasuna radical but are moderate people who dare not condemn it so that no one in their group of friends, their workplace, or anywhere, dares to tell them anything. The same happens at uni. You go to the cafeteria and you must be careful what you discuss with a classmate leaning on the bar, because you know that someone who’s leaning on the bar next to you is alerting another colleague or sharing your photo with radical groups so that they know it’s you and warn them to “be careful, if you run into this one, shout at him, look at him.”
That’s why I need to be escorted by private campus security to walk the university hallways of today because maybe if I’m left alone and they see me, they might decide to do the same or worse. I don’t want to think about it. “That’s the atmosphere. Don’t mobilise, keep quiet. You know when you enter the university that if you see graffiti and posters, you must shut up, and don’t mobilise or we’ll come after you.”
Question by Maite Pagaza
David, when did the attack take place?
Answer from David Chamorro
In 2018, November 30.
It was already at the beginning of the post-terrorism era. There are no murders in the Basque Country and no murders in the rest of Spain. However, there is clearly still lying, social control and underlying political intolerance at the Basque university.
You have to be escorted to avoid hounding behaviour. The messages we’ve seen do something that’s just turning reality upside down: the totalitarian violent ones — those using violence — call you “dangerous far-right extremist”. You are the innocent victim, but to them you are the dangerous one and the one to be stigmatised. Also, if they feel like it, they will hit you again. That’s why you have to have an escort detail. However, totalitarians feel free to say who has the right to be at university, to speak and to let no one interfere.
It’s weird. I don’t know if we can see Arnaldo Otegi’s malicious condemnation of your attack. It basically says that “you have the right to defend your ideas as long as you don’t use violence.” So he’s making you suspicious of being violent, when it turns out you’re a person who doesn’t use violence. All you want is to exercise your freedom. It is the attackers around them who use violence. Otegi says, “those who defend the unity of Spain have the right to do so as long as they do not use violence for this purpose”. However, here the only ones who have used violence are those who attack people who have absolutely legitimate political ideas.
It’s all a malicious strategy. In addition, the seniors — the grownups — go about it behind our backs. But they support the same strategy, which is to cast doubt over you. Placing the innocent person “who wants to exercise freedom, who says we are in a post-terrorism era and wants to be free” under suspicion. You become the far-right extremist and therefore everyone must think that you are the one who generates the most violence.
I’ve heard people say down the halls that I was a Nazi, all the names you can imagine. “We’re going after this one because he’s a dangerous man.”
Julia, you managed to overcome this stage that in David’s case frustrated their goal. That group, in those circumstances, with people so violent who are willing to smash your face, obviously created an impossible environment. It poisoned the possibilities of the association, at least for now. In your case, did they try to frustrate the creation of your movement?
The pro-independence movement does indeed have a demonisation strategy: they attack, they stigmatise, because it’s dangerous. We are “dangerous” for their ideas, for their inexistent fairy tale that has pervaded universities. We show up and say that they are lying, that they are the totalitarian ones, not us. If someone removes the graffiti, it destroys their account of the single discourse claiming that everyone must be a nationalist. Bearing this in mind, it’s not strange we suffer aggression.
No one would believe that trying to exercise your fundamental rights such as the right of association and meeting in a democratic society can result in a smashed face.
They do use this demonisation strategy. You’re a Nazi to begin with, and then you’ll have to prove otherwise if you want and you can. This is a disgrace. There’s graffiti all over the university, so that if someone wants to join S’ha Acabat they will already think that it is something negative, something to go against. Then we’ll see if anyone dares to join and see that it’s quite the opposite. This demonisation strategy is commonplace.
Let’s focus on the past for a moment, since we are saying that it’s “still counting”. I’m going to show you something that might be new to you. It’s an actual pamphlet from 2000. That year many people were murdered in the Basque Country. There were students like you who went to university protected by escorts. I had to be one of those people.
There were students your age who went to university escorted and because of that, this pamphlet was printed: “This isn’t a school, it’s a kennel, there’s lots of loose dogs, with no muzzle or leash.” It wasn’t about the people who were going to attack innocent people, but the people who were protected. It said, “lots of loose dogs with no muzzle or leash but with a gun.” This paper was dehumanising those people who were protecting the lives of those students who had to be escorted.
“Armed police run amok in the Department of Business Studies while escorting PP members.” You know that there was a generation of young students who decided to get involved in politics after the murder of Gregorio Ordóñez. Many of them had not even completed their studies. Many of them had to go to university with police escort, even people with another ideology.
“What will happen if they are forced to pull out the gun in the presence of any young suspect?” It never happened. “And if the weapon is accidentally fired, who will take responsibility?”
They were not thinking at all about the risk these young people took simply by deciding to exercise their ideological freedom.
“Is this how the UPV intends to turn the university into a space for plural and tolerant freedom? They must go, both the dogs and the fascists that take them for a walk.”
Dehumanisation of “dogs”. Dehumanisation of “fascists”. “They must go”. It’s a very basic historical motto of propaganda and misinformation and above all, a space for plural and tolerant freedom. Now, 18 years later you were kicked in the face to prevent the University of the Basque Country from effectively becoming a space for plural and tolerant freedom.
You have been gaining every inch of space for freedom and pluralism for several years, with a clear stigma and yet holding the mirror to show that it’s not true. They are still not spaces for freedom and tolerance, or for critical thinking. There’s a significant democratic deficit. The story of students like you is untold.
I remember when I went to university and saw these pamphlets, I also experienced a very serious attempt at aggression and was escorted because of the death threats I received. When you see them, what’s your impression?
It seems to me that it’s pretty much the same thing I’ve read stuck on the walls of my school, and the messages that I’ve received. I once received a message that I’d never received before: “The fascist needs a snake and axe!” I think it’s one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever heard. I see those messages, like the one you’ve mentioned, those expressions they always use, that stigmatisation against the university’s private security, who still today are putting up with lots of things. At the University of the Basque Country they are insulted and there are posters telling them to leave, that they’re worthless and “dogs”. That pamphlet reflects what I see when I’m on campus. It’s the same. In the year 2020.
Let’s talk about your teachers and the university’s governing body.
It’s appalling. I don’t understand how people whose vocation is teaching and training people are able to sell themselves for anything in return, to sell their values and their principles for ideas imposed from a government. They should have to stand firm and strong and defend the freedom of all students. They shouldn’t care whether I’m a constitutionalist or if my classmate is pro- independence.
As for the teachers, I have an anecdote that I used to refuse to share, but today it must be known that there are teachers like this. I had a teacher who just before an exam said something like “close the door, you are from Madrid”, using a very derogatory tone. After that I had to take an exam that she was going to mark. After she said that I stood there not knowing how to react. I didn’t understand. I had always addressed her in Catalan, I sat all exams in Catalan. Here, as we all know, the system is of language immersion and Catalan is perfectly spoken. There is an absence, in some cases, of the Spanish language.
There are also many teachers praising the independence ideas. I remember that this particular teacher once dedicated her lesson to dismantling or arguing why she believed Article 155 was an anti-democratic article of the Constitution. Funnily enough, this teacher taught Constitutional Law.
These examples contrast with a large number of teachers who are likely to think like you do, but don’t raise their voices. I understand that it is difficult, that they risk their jobs, but 20 years have gone by since the pamphlet you showed us was printed and universities — in the Basque Country with a higher degree of violence — somehow remain the same. We need to encourage all those who can to raise their voices, as David has done.
I understand it’s not always easy, but you don’t always have to be there getting your ass kicked. There are people who have it much easier; teachers are in a position of superiority and power in towards students. If a teacher openly says that he doesn’t agree or that he doesn’t want people being singled out for their ideology, he can give a lesson from his position of power.
David, besides verbal harassment and everything you’ve told us, that brutal assault was carried out by a mob in a place where there were no cameras, wasn’t it? Could you tell us about this case and the ensuing impunity?
We left the meeting and they started stalking us. I know they’d been in and out of all the buildings for about an hour without anyone saying anything. There were fifteen of them according to witnesses. According to the camera recordings I watched, there were more than 20 people. They were organised, they followed some sort of protocol to watch the entire campus at once all afternoon and see when we went in or out and bump into us.
We were slyly followed by two young men alone to an area of the university where there are no cameras because it’s a public park. It’s right next to one of the buildings. After following us there and confronting us, they must have shouted. Several punches later, I had already lost consciousness on the ground after being kicked. They shouted and the whole pack came. They arrived and everyone started kicking me and yelling at me. The last thing I remember was hearing “fucking Spaniard”. One of the kicks knocked me down.
The funny thing is how they get organised, how they know where they have to go, where they have to hit you, and wait for you. There are no cameras in that particular area. They wear hoodies and similar clothes. They prepare a kind of protocol to know how to act and not get caught.
Sometimes on campus, the surveillance cameras of buildings are “coincidentally” disconnected and fail to capture certain actions. They never find who made the graffiti. You can never catch someone sticking a poster. It’s all a bit weird. But that’s how it goes.
There was premeditation and malice, and full cooperation. As for the teachers and complaint you submitted, could you tell us a bit more?
After I was admitted to hospital and underwent surgery, I contacted some teachers to let them know that I wasn’t going to be able to go to class. I started getting messages from my teachers. I was very lucky during that term. All — except for one who was impartial — mobilised to organise a rally and condemn the events. I’m aware that the university’s governing body also participated, although I openly criticise them. I’ve even done so by letter to the rector. I can’t criticise the dean of my Department because I consider him to be a very responsible man and he has tried to do better. However, he doesn’t have the power to prevent certain actions. I know that, when trying to unanimously condemn the events with the faculty many teachers refused, arguing that it was not their competence and that they had nothing to do with it.
If instead of people who are physically or morally harassed, or being silenced to be socially controlled, something like this happened to a pro-independence association, do you think that the university would have stood up and the case would have been in the media? Are they applying double standards?
I’m completely sure that from the very beginning it would have been condemned, protected and supported by the rectorate. There would have been protects. The media would have reported it and fingers would have been pointed and the authors sought. It would have been different from the cases mentioned by David that we have experienced on multiple occasions of “no, the author wasn’t found”. I’m absolutely sure that in this case all resources had been put in place, even from the regional governments, to find those people and host all the necessary events to denounce this.
David, you’ve mentioned that teachers risk their jobs, which means that they’re also afraid. That atmosphere is so ubiquitous that it’s not just happening to students. Teachers are neither free to position themselves in the face of something as terrible as the ultranationalism and intolerant identitarianism, a form of exclusionary identity, which has become the only idea widely accepted in Basque or Catalan universities. Because whoever is not in it, keeps quiet.
In my experience, there are many teachers who support you when you talk to them in private. They tell you the things they’ve experienced at the most difficult times, when people broke into their offices and destroyed their belongings, when they were forced to go on strike, etc.
Today many of them dare to publicly and categorically condemn it. I’m fortunate to have met brave teachers, like Antonio Rivera, who condemn this kind of actions, who always fight for democracy and freedom. However, many still don’t have the ability to make a retaining wall. They say they support you but also: “I’m so sorry, I can’t. Please don’t say this because maybe someone says something from the rectorate. They’re not going to fire me, but they can single me out. I might get told off”. I get that kind of comments.
Indeed, Antonio Rivera is an extraordinary man, just like Luis Castells and some other History teachers who are doing a great job in this time of post-terrorism. If we didn’t have reliable facts about what happened, they’d tell us we’re making it up. In any case, that past is misunderstood.
The report that I mentioned about the teacher of the University of the Basque Country against ETA discusses university teachers who dared to speak out against not only political intolerance but political assassination, and extreme persecution in Basque and Spanish societies. They experienced burnt cars and attempted murders. Some had to leave the Basque Country. When ETA decided to say that they would stop killing, they were called in a bad manner. Some had already rebuilt their lives outside university. They were told that they had to come back and resume their jobs.
They were never thanked, and they were treated like second-class citizens. These are the people who worked the hardest for our freedoms. They put their intellectual excellence at the service of the whole society and became references. We read their papers and that gave us strength. In the 90s they began to speak and write in the Basque press, when they decided to step up after the murder of Miguel Ángel Blanco, and published manifestos. In some cases they had to leave. Some of their posts were occupied by people who used them to further deepen this culture of intolerance.
So, I think this experience should be known. I imagine that in many Spanish universities you have no idea of the current situation, in which it’s still difficult to be able to talk and speak one’s mind and it comes at an enormous cost. I guess that in the rest of Europe people are not aware that there’s a lack of fundamental freedoms and rights at Catalan and Basque universities.
Has anyone asked you?
We have met some rectors and staff from other universities, in Valencia and Navarra. But it’s very difficult to take them there. I’m convinced we’ll make it and find the way together. Although it’s true that this must be spread to every corner of Spain for everyone to be aware of and denounce it.
I’ve been contacted by people from other universities stunned by the environment in which we live in at the Basque university. In some cases, they were fascinated by it and wanted to do research on it. But very few people. People don’t know what we experience here, or in Catalonia. I always say that in Catalonia is like they’re moving up the ladder. Julia, you’re doing a fantastic job. It’s very difficult here. I’m sure that since you have mobilised quickly, they certainly won’t end up becoming so radical.
The EUROPOL, in the last report just presented in the European Parliament on terrorism trends, when discussing ethno-nationalist terrorism, stated that there had been no murders in 2019 but it was already warning of the resurgence of violently radicalised young people that could lead to a rise in violence and persecution. This was announced by EUROPOL in their latest report, referring to 2019.
This could be understood considering that the terrorists who leave prisons — convicted for terrible crimes they carried out which they don’t regret — are welcomed as heroes. They are greeted as if they were true heroes with the most important traditional elements such as the honouring aurresku dance. And there are always children. Children who, when they are tweens, they see posters of people who have committed terrible crimes and persecuted the freedom of others. The fundamental element is to kill or frighten one person to scare everyone else, so that there is only one possible public way of thinking, one type of poster, a single way of understanding the cultural or political life, with children.
If society doesn’t publicly say “this isn’t right,” the only message those kids are getting is that it’s fine, they’re heroes. A new generation of intolerant people — such as those organised in universities — can be encouraged once again although going much further. You understand in your contexts that not challenging and not clearing out the elements of intolerance of the past and the present properly creates an increased risk of extremism or escalating in hate speech and committing hate crimes.
I believe that if there are no people like us who firmly believe in democracy, if we don’t denounce it, if we don’t offer an alternative discourse to the nationalist one, if we don’t fight for making normal what should be normal, we won’t achieve a free society.
In the Basque case, it’s very difficult to organise a group because it’s very difficult for people to dare to join. Everyone must condemn certain things and support freedom and democracy. If it can’t be in a group, then it must be done individually. We should not keep quiet. Even if you receive insults, say it out loud. Because it’s okay. It’s not you who’s wrong, it’s the bigots and the totalitarians. It’s not us.
There might be at way for people to say it anonymously. How could we help you?
You could make a digital broadcast with which to get a lot of people to read and see testimonies. You can show people the past with audiovisual means. A look at the university in the past and what it could become if we aren’t more careful and continue to allow everything. Use those means to get a lot of people to notice. “I came here to study and I thought this was something else and they’re not letting me speak up. I have to put up with them insulting my parents if they’re not originally Basque, or something similar.”
Are people insulted because of their origins? This is xenophobia, a kind of ethnic-political racism.
I think it’s the basis of nationalism. Believing that their territory — and them for being born there — are better, with the idea of a superior race. That’s the kind of nonsense they say, and saying they are different from Spain. I got messages such as: “you must be from Burgos, you weren’t born here”. No. I was born here, my parents were born here, my grandparents were born here, and I am as Basque as you are, or even more than you if I think as you do.
But they don’t understand. They believe that by not supporting independence we are inferior to them. We’re some sort of prey they want to hunt and we’re not good for anything else. That’s what they think in their sick minds.
In Torra’s words, “moronic beasts.” Clearly, people will include it in their ideas and framework of thought. This is spread by the Regional Parliament and Regional Government. There’s not much more to say when the president of the autonomous community himself says so.
If you were to address people who know nothing of what you’ve been through. Is there anything that really stuck to share with them?
I would tell them that the slogans of democracy, freedom, and the freedom of political prisoners used by the independence supporters — applicable to the entire Basque nationalist movement — is completely false based on the experiences we’ve shared in this webinar.
I’ll share with you what happened to me at university. In February 2000, Fernando Buesa was murdered. He was like a father to me. I unconsciously stopped going to university. When I returned, almost three months later, I asked my friends from the Basque language students for class notes. I studied Law in Basque and Spanish because I was interested as an administrative and legal translator. I hadn’t attended all lessons and I was also pregnant with my second daughter. The next day, I came back with the notes. When I arrived, I found a written threat to me on the classroom door. I had been away for almost three months and there was the graffiti.
It wasn’t just that. The Spanish language students were leaving even though they were quite far away. A girl in my class who was in a corner seemed to be the snitch who gave the alarm. All of a sudden, strangers came up to me shouting with sticks and ikurriña flags. There was a lot of people. I was so scared for my baby. I thought they were going to throw me down the stairs. They were shouting. They didn’t see me as a human being. They had dehumanised their gaze. They saw me as an object of their hatred.
I was very afraid and suddenly a boy from the Spanish language group who was a trained escort showed up. He got me out of there before they started hitting me. They chased us. He had to get me out in his car, skidding. If the first one had hit us, we’d have been lynched. Not long after that I was under police escort.
So, when I read that David’s case had gone unpunished, I felt very angry. I thought this couldn’t be happening. We’re in a post-terrorism era. We have to say that freedom is important. We have to get more people to commit and exercise freedom. If there is no freedom at university, it’s very difficult for societies to deal well with the wounds of the past.
What questions do you want to pose to those who might listen to this in the future?
I would like people listening to wonder what they would do if they were in our shoes. Perhaps there’s someone in the same situation at the Catalan university, in Navarra or in the Basque Country. They should ask themselves how they would act in a similar situation, or if they couldn’t exercise their freedom. I would ask the same thing to adult people — who are no longer in college and have built their lives — to imagine their youth or that of their children in such an environment. What would they tell them?
If you learn to be submissive at university, it’s normal that you continue to be submissive.
I would like to ask anyone who sees this in 20 years if they would like to see their children go through situations like these. If they’d be comfortable thinking that it happened because now that they can do it and that it’s time to defend freedom, they haven’t.
We haven’t been submissive, and we’re not going to be. How can we give hope and let people take freedom seriously? Anything positive we can tell them? Despite the objective persecution I may have suffered, I’ve always felt very free inside and that has made me feel very good. I’ve always thought that I was much freer — even in the days when I was escorted — than many of those who had no escort but lived in an inner prison. Being free and exercising freedom, despite the hardships we’re sharing, is it worth it?
I believe so. I would ask people who are in a similar situation or who think they can get to it that freedom doesn’t come for free to anyone in this environment. You need to scream that you want to be free, that they’re mistaken and they’re the ones who need to change. It’s not going to be us. I would tell them not to keep quiet and lower their heads. It’s not your fault. Say your ideas out loud. Ask for freedom and don’t be silenced by the discourse of hate, xenophobia and racism that these people are throwing against you. Be brave. Say it out loud, it’s okay.
They’re not anti-fascists, they’re thugs.
To be free is to raise one’s hand and say I’m against it. I do not agree, and I will not go through the nationalist framework imposed on me on a daily basis.
I am speaking to you from the European Parliament as a MEP and Vice-President of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Here we are analysing each of the attacks on fundamental rights that occur in any corner of Europe. It’s not only in Catalan or Basque universities where there is a lack of freedom. There are very similar people in Hungary or Poland, or elsewhere, who also try to make their way of seeing the exclusionary identity, their way of understanding politics or understanding the homeland the single one. And it puts up a barrier on freedom. There are people like you who are fighting in Europe. If there’s anyone who wants to send us their testimony, we would send their message where necessary.
The temptation to state the proper way to be Basque, Catalan, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, French, etc. is not exclusive to our territory. Unfortunately, there is a gene of people, within humankind, who sometimes considers that power has to be only for a few and that identity is what they say. It’s a fight from the past, of the present and I’m afraid of the future.
I think a collection of your testimonies would be a historical document. We will strive to stop political intolerance in the University from being “still counting.”